Eminent Domain

Philly Artist Fights City Hall Over Eminent Domain Abuse

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Philadelphia's James Dupree is an accomplished artist whose work has appeared in museum all over the world, including his hometown's Philadelphia Museum of Art and African American Museum.

In 2005, Dupree bought a dilapidated warehouse in the City of Brotherly Love's Mantua neighborhood and worked to turn it into a studio that hosts his personal workshop, art classes, and even visitors through Airbnb.

That's all being threatened by the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA), a local government agency that is supposed to revitalize distressed neighborhoods. 

PRA made plans with Aquinas Realty Partners to convert the block that Dupree's studio is on into a multi-use area with retail shops and a high-end grocery store. PRA designated the studio as blighted and moved to take it via eminent domain, the government's right to seize property for public use. It planned to give the property to the private developer Aquinas. Part of the eminent domain process is that dispossessed property owners must be offered fair and just compensation. PRA offered Dupree $640,000 for his property even though the estimated market value is $2.2 million.

Taking private property and then giving it to a developer constitutes abuse of eminent domain, says Institute for Justice senior attorney Scott Bullock. "A grocery store is like any other private business," he explains. "It is  about as far away from a public use as one could imagine." Historically, eminent domain was used to build things such as roads, public schools, and hospitals. Increasingly, though, it's being used by governments to give favored developers sweetheart deals.

Bullock was the lead counsel in the 2005 Supreme Court case Kelo v. New London, which involved a municipal government in Connecticut seizing property and giving it to a private developer to build a hotel complex. The high court ruled that it was constitutional as long as the government said they were trying to increase tax revenues. The Kelo decision was highly controversial and led many states and municipalities to pass tighter restrictions on the use of eminent domain.

Ironically, the inefficiency of municipal bureaucracy may give Dupree his best chance of winning his case. When PRA classified Dupree's property as blighted, it ended up condemning only two of the three addresses his property sits on.

Dupree has begun an online petition and has taken PRA to court. A decision is expected later this year.

About 5 minutes. 

Produced by Joshua Swain. Narrated by Nick Gillespie. 

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